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Canada Indigenous groups to slow traffic on Ontario highways in solidarity with B.C. pipeline protest

An Indigenous protest convoy drives at slow speed on Highway 401 westbound in Kingston, Ont., Jan., 11, 2019, in support of pipeline protesters in British Columbia.

Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press

Periodic slowdowns were expected on Ontario highways Friday as a number of Indigenous groups held what they described as a “solidarity slowdown” with a British Columbia community protesting a natural gas pipeline.

Organizer Sunny Maracle said drivers would be travelling at slow speeds down local highways to show their support for the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Earlier this week, heavily armed police arrested people protesting a Coastal GasLink pipeline that would run through the Wet’suwet’en territory to Kitimat, B.C.

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Maracle said Friday’s peaceful protests were meant to support a community fighting to preserve its ancestral lands.

He said convoys of supporters were converging near Brantford, Ont., adding other groups were gathering in the eastern part of the province.

Provincial police in various parts of Ontario reported vehicles travelling at between 50 kilometres and 60 kilometres an hour, causing rolling delays, but said the protests were peaceful.

Maracle said the situation in B.C. demonstrates the government’s lack of respect for Indigenous communities and the ways in which they try to conduct their affairs.

“We close the highway because of the way the government’s carrying on trying to take our land and forcing stuff down our throats,” Maracle said. “We’re telling them no, they’re going across our land … They had no right to do what they did to our people out west.”

On Monday, 14 people were arrested after the Mounties took apart a gate that blocked access to an area where Coastal GasLink wants to build a natural gas pipeline.

The arrests were made as the RCMP enforced a court injunction against members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation who opposed the pipeline by preventing access to the planned route.

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TC Energy, the company formerly known as TransCanada that plans to develop the pipeline, said it has signed agreements with the elected councils of all 20 First Nations along the path, including the Wet’suwet’en.

However, members of the First Nation opposing the pipeline said the company failed to get consent from its five house chiefs, who are hereditary rather than elected. They argue the elected council only has jurisdiction over the reserve, which is a much smaller area than the 22,000 square kilometres that comprise the Wet’suwet’ens traditional territory.

Maracle said Friday’s highway protesters agree that band councils are not empowered to make decisions for the community.

Police said the solidarity slowdown in Ontario did snarl traffic along stretches of major provincial highways, but indicated the delays were not long-lasting.

Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Laura Brown reported delays early Friday morning, but said all was moving normally within hours.

Sgt. Cynthia Savard of the OPP’s East Region said a convoy of about 10 vehicles driving at roughly 50 kilometres an hour were causing traffic backups for several kilometres near Prescott, Ont. While she said no major problems were anticipated, she said motorists may wish to look into alternate routes.

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“If people are able to avoid the area … and find a different route, it will probably be a little easier on them,” she said.

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